It's not life or death, but it sure does make the meal more excellent when the wine pairs well with the food, doesn't it?
You may not be all that specific with your wine needs if you're sitting down to enjoy a plate of nachos, but nearly every pasta dish deserves a complementary wine pairing. So how do you decide?
For starters, you need to pay attention to what goes on and with the pasta, and then there are other considerations like the origin and characteristics of the wine. So, let's take a look at what wine goes with spaghetti.
Does Red or White Wine Go with Spaghetti?
Most wine drinkers know at least to pair reds with beef and whites with fish as a general rule. Some pasta dishes lend themselves readily to a red, but not all of them. Again, what matters is not the pasta, but what's on the pasta.
If you cook spaghetti and top it with a hearty red sauce, you're going to want a red wine of some sort to go along with it. If you cook penne or fusilli, then top either with that same hearty red sauce. The red wine you used with the spaghetti will be apropos here, as well. So it's not the pasta you want to worry about.
But I know what you're asking: you're not asking about the pasta itself, but the dish it's in, and most of us, when we mention spaghetti, are talking about spaghetti with marinara sauce, or a bolognese, or meatballs. In general, these tomato-based sauces will go best with a medium-bodied red wine, and I'll get into why a little bit later.
So, as a general guide, have a bottle of Chianti on hand (like Castello di Ama Chianti Classico 2017) for your spaghetti dish that runs along those tomato sauce lines. It's a reliable Italian wine that will almost always pair well with a reliable Italian dish like spaghetti with meat sauce.
What White Wine Goes Well with Spaghetti?
Spaghetti dishes adorned with cheese sauces cry out for a white wine pairing since cheese by itself is often paired with a white. Any ricotta-based sauce will do well with a Vermentino, as its citrus notes and crisp apple and pear overtones complement ricotta's lightness. The 2016 Capichera Vermentino Isola dei Nuraghi IGT fits the bill, and this is a wine that's best drunk young, so if it's already in your wine cellar, break it out before it ages too much.
Chardonnays also pair well with cheese-based sauces over spaghetti and for similar reasons. The light-bodied character of this wine won't overpower your sauce but will complement the dish well.
Other sauces aren't cheese-based but will still want a white wine as a companion. These are seafood sauces, maybe made with prawns or clams.
Since the seafood itself is pretty light, you would not want to weigh it down with a full-bodied, rich red. Doing that will overpower the seafood flavors, so stick with a dry white. How about the quintessential dry white—Pinot Grigio?
Going along a somewhat opposite line of logic, you want a nice, light-bodied wine with a heavier dish like spaghetti with a carbonara sauce. Since that's a saltier concoction, and the bacon makes it a filling meal, you want a more acidic wine to go with it, like a Soave, perhaps something like the Pieropan Soave Classico DOCG 2018.
What Red Wine Goes Well with Spaghetti?
Speaking of acidity, medium-body reds go pretty universally with tomato-based sauces many people use to top their spaghetti dishes. The tomato is an acidic fruit, so it follows that tomato sauces are acidic, as well.
As mentioned above, a Chianti will work well with just about any red sauce, but there are so many other reds out there to choose from. Pick a light- to medium-bodied red like a Merlot or a Zinfandel for a marinara sauce (which is relatively light, but still acidic from the tomatoes).
As your sauce gets richer, say from adding meat or cream, go more toward heavier-bodied wines. Try a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Syrah. Malbec brings its rich color and spicy flavors to complement richer dishes. Look into the El Enemigo Malbec 2017.
Cab-Savs have all the tannins you could want, they're a bit sweet, and they're somewhat fruity. And a good Syrah, like Te Mata Hawke's Bay Syrah, brings a variety of flavors to your savory meals, depending on where in the world the grapes were grown.
Looking for something to go with your Spaghetti all'Arrabbiata means something that can keep up with the dish's spiciness. Since Arrabbiata is all about its chili peppers, you need a wine that won't compete with the spiciness but complement it. The fruitiness of a Zinfandel works well for this type of dish. With spicy sauces, sweeter wines work well.
A Zinfandel like Tormaresca's Primitivo Salento Torcicoda strikes a charming balance (incidentally, "Zinfandel" and "Primitivo" are both names for the same grape).
What Is the Best Wine to Have with Spaghetti and Meatballs?
Many reds will work well with this classic dish. In the end, it will come down to what's in your sauce and what you prefer in a wine. Good starting places include a fruity Merlot, nearly any Tuscan red, or a Zinfandel.
What Do You Drink with Spaghetti Alle Vongole?
Clams call for white wine, preferably the less fruity, the better. Finding a nice Pinot Grigio will score points with your dinner guests, but there's also the entertaining option of sparkling wine—something like the Bohigas Reserva Cava Brut, which sports a minerality that goes well with the clams.
The opinion that matters, in the end, is yours, so use these suggestions as just that—suggestions. In a past life, a friend of mine once told me that what makes a good wine is this: do you like it? If so, then it's a good wine. Maybe that's not universally true, but if you try a Malbec with your red sauce and hate it, try something else.
Take these guidelines and run with them, but rely on the final arbiter of taste, which is what you and your dinner companions enjoy the most.